Encinitas council forms panel to look into new energy model

An Encinitas panel will soon explore a new energy plan that proponents argue would provide cheaper and cleaner power to the city.

The Encinitas City Council on Dec. 16 voted 3-1 to set up a work group that will weigh the pros and cons of Community Choice Aggregation, or CCA.

Under a CCA, Encinitas would bypass San Diego Gas & Electric to buy its energy directly from providers. Cities like Solana Beach and San Diego are also considering CCAs in hopes of providing even more green energy than SDG&E’s system, in which about one-third of electricity comes from renewable sources.

Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer said a CCA could help Encinitas comply with its Climate Action Plan, which calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, among other goals.

“We did a plan, but we never really came up with an implementation strategy,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer will serve on the panel, along with two Encinitas Environmental Commission members, outside CCA experts, local business representatives and city staff.

If the city ultimately adopts a CCA, SDG&E would still deliver the energy over the existing grid. However, the city would be responsible for securing the power contracts, not SDG&E. Encinitas customers would be automatically enrolled in the CCA, though they could opt out.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar, who opposed the working group, said few California cities have CCAs and that she’d like to see more success stories before moving forward.

“My concern is that we don’t have the benefit of lessons learned and experiences from these jurisdictions,” Gaspar said. “And that concerns me because it tells we’re operating at a higher-risk model.”

There are currently three CCAs in California: Marin Clean Energy, Sonoma Clean Power and Lancaster Choice Energy. Communities around the state are looking into the model.

Councilman Tony Kranz said the panel should gauge whether more San Diego County cities are interested in the CCA model and if they’d like to team up on a planned feasibility study. He added the idea of a CCA in Encinitas has been tossed around for a while, so he’s happy to explore further.

Five public speakers voiced support for the working group, while one person was against.

Resident Michael Hetz said a CCA represents a “win-win-win” for residents, businesses and the environmental community.

Hetz is the vice president of San Diego Energy District, a group that argues cities should adopt CCAs on the grounds that investor-owned utilities like SDG&E have been slow to embrace green energy.

Eve Simmons said a CCA would boost the city’s renewables portfolio and thus combat climate change.

“To willingly choose burning fossil fuels over competitively priced renewable energy is sheer madness,” Simmons said.

But resident Denis Lougeay, the lone speaker against establishing a panel, contended that wind and solar are still too expensive to rely on to power the city.

To date, CCAs have been able to provide power that’s more renewable and at a lower cost than traditional utilities, but CCAs have risks and costs, according to a staff report. One CCA model, a joint powers authority, would require a feasibility study, legal analysis, start-up costs and more to get going.

Attempts to form CCAs in San Francisco and the San Joaquin Valley have stalled, with both facing opposition from the utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company. It has contended that the areas face a significant financial liability if CCAs take effect.

The Encinitas Environmental Commission has been exploring a CCA and recommended that the council form the work group.

Councilman Mark Muir was absent from the meeting.

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